Big Money

Big money pull a million strings
Big money hold the prize
Big money weave a mighty web
Big money draw the flies

Catching up on weekend news and see that Coursera has landed $20 million more in VC funding. $20 million dollars. That’s bigger than the entire annual operating grant (pdf) Royal Roads University (my previous institution) gets from our provincial government.

Coursera has raised to $63 million dollars in funding. $63 million that it will have to pay back someday. And I wonder how long it will be before Coursera joins Udacity in the pivot game? Could Alan’s Pivot MOOC mashup (used under CC-BY license) be prescient?

Pivot MOOC

Big money make a million dreams
Big money spin big deals
Big money make a mighty head
Big money spin big wheels

I don’t write about MOOC’s much. There are many others who are much smarter writing better  analysis on all this MOOC stuff than I ever could.  It’s like the drunk frat boy trying to talk hockey with Ron McLean. But just in case it hasn’t been blindingly obvious what the end game is for Udacity and Coursera, then let’s be perfectly clear. It is profit. These are corporations who exist to make money for shareholders and investors.

I know. Never let it be said that I don’t state the obvious. This is the limit of my MOOC analysis. Sharp, isn’t it? But I think it needs to be reiterated to remove any doubt for causal MOOC viewers who believe the “save the world” rhetoric.

Of course, this is not new. That has been the game plan from the get go. But whenever something like a pivot happens, or a new round of funding gets shoveled in, it’s important that we stop and remind ourselves of the fact that this is for-profit education that is, in many cases, being built on the backs of a public system. Last year at OpenEd 2012 in Vancouver I remember hearing Athabasca University’s Terry Anderson talk about this rush by public institutions to partner with the shiny new kid on the block Coursera. He made the statement “I don’t know if they quite realize who they have gotten into bed with.”

I was happy Udacity “pivoted” because it is one of those moments that makes the end game even more clear. These are not educators hoping to improve the world, or even improve the lives of their students. Let’s drop the altruistic pretension and do goody good bullshit about making higher education accessible and free for the poor yearning masses. It has always been the ickiest part of the Coursera/Udacity MOOC model. It is about profit.

The Udacity pivot and this latest announcement of VC funding for Coursera remind me of a moment that occurred in the spring while I was at the Connexions conference at Rice University, home of the OpenStax College open textbook project. I attended a Skyped in keynote from Coursera’s Andrew Ng, similar to the one that those who attended OpenEd did a few weeks ago (he did take some questions from the audience at the Connexions conference at the end of his presentation, moderated by Richard Baraniuk).

Connexions is all about open textbooks; free for students, CC-BY licensed for reuse and redistribution. In his keynote, Ng spoke about the importance of projects like Connexions and open textbooks in general as ways to reach the goal of free and open courses for all. This happened one day after I read an Inside Higher Ed article which pointed out that Coursera had an affiliate deal with Amazon whereby Coursera makes money from the sale of textbooks. For each textbook sold, Coursera gets a slice from Amazon. So, on one hand, Coursera is extolling the virtues and importance of open textbooks to the open textbook crowd while on the other they are using textbooks as a source of revenue, selling them to students. To me, it came across as hypocritical and was one of those moments where I saw clearly through the fog.

Big money got a heavy hand
Big money take control
Big money got a mean streak
Big money got no soul

It’s about the money, and I wish that Coursera would join Udacity and drop the pretense because altruism alone doesn’t have a good enough ROI to pay back $63 million in investments.

God, Geddy Lee had great hair.

Big Money by Clint Lalonde, unless otherwise expressly stated, is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.

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